American Heart Month

In 2004, President Bush appropriately proclaimed February as American Heart Month. This is a fitting title, not only because of the heart-shaped paraphernalia surrounding the 14th, but because the number one killer of Americans, coronary heart disease, definitely deserves national attention. The word is out, but how many of us really know what to do to protect ourselves? Heart healthy nutrition is one way you can prevent heart disease, and the First Place Live It plan can get you started!

Keep Fats in Check
First, you want to keep your fats in check. Saturated and trans fats are the biggest dietary culprits when it comes to elevated blood cholesterol (a major cause of heart disease). These fats are found in foods from animals, such as fatty meats, higher fat milk and cheese, butter, and foods made with hydrogenated oil, such as many commercial baked goods, French fries, and donuts. These fats are also found in tropical oils like palm and coconut oils. Choose what is better from these groups and select leaner meats, 1% or skim milk, low-fat cheese, soft, liquid, or non hydrogenated margarines made from a blend of healthy oils, such as soybean, canola, olive, or safflower, and healthy snacks that have zero grams trans fat on the label. Examples of other foods rich in the healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats include fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, and nuts, such as walnuts and almonds.

Reading the food label is a smart way to stay informed and monitor your total fat intake, as well as your intake of saturated and trans fats. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fat intake should not exceed 7% of total daily calories and trans fat intake should not exceed 1%. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 20-35% of total daily calories to come from all fats (saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated). Dietary cholesterol also raises blood cholesterol, so be sure to monitor your intake and do not exceed 300 milligrams per day.

Go Easy on the Salt
Second, go easy on the salt shaker so as to lower your blood pressure and risk of hypertension and heart disease. We need sodium in our diets, but most Americans eat way too much of it. Be sure to check the labels on the foods you eat and aim for less than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. Try seasoning foods with spices and herbs instead of salt – you’ ll be amazed at the tasty variety available on your spice rack! These include bay leaves, basil, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger, mustard, nutmeg, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme!

Remember the Tortoise
Next, continue to watch your calories and work to lose those extra pounds. Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease, especially if you carry most of your body fat around your middle. Remember to take your weight loss a pound or two at a time and take a lesson from the tortoise and the hare. With consistency and diligence, the tortoise won the race!

Lastly, fill up on foods high in soluble fiber, such as oats, rye, barley, flaxseed, and beans, which lower total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and other particles in the blood that contribute to heart disease. 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories is the current recommendation (approximately 30 grams for a 2000 calorie diet). Don’ t forget about fruits and vegetables, which have similar cholesterol-lowering effects, not to mention many other health benefits!

Heart Healthy Links:
The American Heart Association–
The Healthy Fridge–

In His Glory,

Erin Dubroc, RD, LD

First Place Registered Dietitian

Erin Dubroc is the First Place Registered Dietitian.

Erin is a native Houstonian, blessed with a loving family and wonderful husband, Matt. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Science from Texas A&M University in 2003 and has since been completing her Master’s in Public Health and Registered Dietitian (RD) program at the University of Texas School of Public Health in the Houston Medical Center. Her recent academic career has focused on theories and methods for designing, implementing, and evaluating nutrition and other health education programs.